Putting the FEM in STEM: Vanessa Vakharia, founder of The Math Guru

Ever meet someone that is just the definition of cool, who also contributes to society in a meaningful way?  I recently had the pleasure of meeting one such person was; Vanessa Vakharia.  

I met Vanessa through a rad group of creative ladies I hang with in the Toronto music industry.  She’s one of the founding members of Goodnight Sunrise, an indie rock band based here in Toronto.

Pretty cool right?  Goodnight Sunrise have been around for 8 years, have played accross Canada and the UK, and of late supported one of our favorite organizations Sistema by playing one of their fundraising events.  They also make rad tunes like this one:

Normally, I would just launch into some more good words about Goodnight Sunrise, but as it turns out, that’s not all Vanessa does.  Vanessa is also the founder and director of The Math Guru, a super cool boutique math & science tutoring studio. It’s her mission to make math fun, stress-free and accessible for young kids and parents.  She appears regularly on national television and news outlets as an expert in math education, and speaks globally at conferences about re-inventing media representations of women in STEM. She’s even written a book called Math Hacks that you can buy here. Her #goals are to be Lady-Gaga-famous and to totally change math culture so that STEM is finally cool and accessible.

As someone who struggled with math all through school, and has even faced challenges with math in the workplace, Vanessa is a superhero to me, and I wish I knew here in the 8th grade.  Her similar experience inspired her to do the work she does, and that earns some serious cool points in my book.

I got the chance to chat with Vanessa about her work and why she does it, and I’m not going to lie, I’m fangirling pretty hard.  Learn how and why math can be cool, as well as the best thesis title ever, in our interview below.

 

What is your official title? Do you have one?

Queen. Kidding, right now it’s Educational Innovator + Founder/CEO of The Math Guru

 

How did you get into your current line of work?

By failing math not once – but TWICE – in Grade 11, and being endlessly inspired by that failure!

Did you go to school/get training for your dream job?

I LOVE this question because I feel like one of the things that brings people to like, CRISIS-level in high school is the whole idea that you have ONE chance to pick this super specific, perfect, post-secondary pathway and THAT HAS to lead to your dream job or ELSE. And that is SO not the case! What I love best about my path is simply that it led me to where I am right now, at this very moment!

My educational road to where I am today was seemingly random, but in hindsight, the most perfect path ever. I went to university for marketing because I thought I wanted to be in Advertising. Once I actually had a job in advertising, decided I was over it. Then I got my graphic design degree because I wanted to be a designer.  Once I actually had a job in graphic design…you guessed it, over it! THEN I decided to get my teaching degree because I wanted to be a teacher, only to discover I HATED being in the classroom, but loved tutoring! Finally I got a Masters in Math Education because I wanted to do research on all the intricacies of math ed that no one talks about, thinking maybe I would be an academic. And now…here I am! And guess what? I’m using ALL of that education every damn day! I used my marketing know-how to start, brand and market a full on business. I used my design skills to make my logo and to this day, still design all our marketing materials. And well, obviously I use my teaching skills and in-depth knowledge of math education to create and provide an innovative service that no one else in the industry does!

So in short: Did I go to school for my dream job? Well, technically no. But actually, totally, YES!

 

What was your first job ever?

I think my first job ever was like, one of those newspaper delivery jobs! I seriously went door to door at 6am in the morning dropping off flyers at every house on the street. It was oddly satisfying actually, watching the pile get smaller and smaller until I dropped the final one off! That’s such an old-timey job, is that even a job any more?!

What accomplishment/achievement are you most proud of?

Honestly, I’m at a point in my life where I can really really sort of see each accomplishment as a culmination of so many small (and often big!) setbacks and steps forward. When I completed my Masters Thesis (“Imagining a World Where Paris Hilton Loves Math”), I remember thinking that I have never been prouder of anything in my whole life, because it was so hard for me to do, I struggled so so much, and there were so many points when I wanted to give up and didn’t. And that’s what made me proud – not that it was something great and awesome that I had completed, but that I learned from each setback, that I became stronger, that I became bff with failure instead of cowering in defeat. I think today, I’m proudest of what I’ve built and continue to  build with The Math Guru. And I can’t help but smile at the fact that a huge part of that pride is for those exact reasons: creativity in the face of adversity, perseverance despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and growth not in SPITE OF – but BECAUSE of – failure.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

OMG so many things! There are sooooo many things I want to because, well, life is so full of cool things to do! Right now my main thing is running The Math Guru and trying to be the next Lady Gaga in my band, “Goodnight, Sunrise.” So between those two things I’m pretty busy because being in/running a band is like running a second business, but like, you make way less (read: WAY less) money! So if for some weird reason I wasn’t doing these two things (I love them both so so much so wouldn’t want to STOP doing them), but say this was an alternate universe where I HAD to be doing something else…okay I think I would definitely move to a small, adorable town and open a really cute coffee shop where I bake homemade pies every day (would def have to learn how to bake first) and I would know all the regulars and like, we’re only open from 10-5 and it’s all very cute and local and the pace of life is slow and peaceful and I would host artisan markets and have open mic nights and be like, the hip/artsy spot in town that’s like, the cornerstone of the community. That or I would go into full-on author mode and live in different parts of the world for months or even YEARS at a time, writing crazy books. Okay so two very different options. Right.

Keep up with Vanessa through social media and her websites below.

Nadia Elkharadly

Nadia Elkharadly

Nadia Elkharadly is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Addicted Magazine. Her myriad of addictions include music, fashion, travel, technology, boxing and trying to make the world a better place. Nadia is also a feminist, an animal lover, and a neverending dreamer. Keep up with her on social media through @thenadiae.
Nadia Elkharadly